No, Apple does not have thousands of Chinese slaves

Last week Apple released their latest quarterly report in which they told us they sold a bajillion (that’s a scientific number btw) iPhones, iPads, and iPods, and they’ve made a lot of money doing it. Yay! for Apple but as expected the sensational headlines began to permeate the internet.

The New York Times published a sensational piece of link bait (which will probably win someone a Pulitzer by the way) giving us an inside look at the horrors of working at Foxconn. Make no mistake, the working conditions which they face are inhumane, dangerous, and quite literally put their lives at risk. By our standards here in the U.S., Foxconn would’ve been shut down long ago, but that’s just the problem it’s perfectly okay in China.

China wholesales their labor force; a concept that was touched on by the NYT article but never delved into. Instead, the NYT decided to go with the much more sensationalized (and easier sell for clicks) “iEconomy.” There’s no real attempt to point out that it isn’t just Apple and the abuses are not just limited to Foxconn. No, the problem is China’s government, a government that cares more about GDP than the lives of its citizenry. The problem also lies in us.

In our desire to get the latest and greatest pieces of kit we all are willing to turn a blind eye to the grotesque and inhumane working conditions the people that put together our toys face. The fact is that in order to keep prices down for the gear we love and love to cover, someone has to get the short end of the deal; this neither excuses it nor does it make the problem any less significant. What does trivialize the issue is inferring that one company out of the hundreds that put in work orders to their supply chains is responsible for the plight faced by the Chinese workers.

Over the weekend some in the Android camp took to the internet to use the Time’s report and took it up a notch saying that “Apple [was] the number 1 slave exploiter.” Oh dear me, I can’t roll my eyes hard enough at that statement.

And that’s the my main issue with everyone in journalism that started beating the Apple = evil drum. I’ve made it clear that the working conditions in all Chinese factories are deplorable and should create a strong desire for change. But it’s not Apple’s fault, it’s all our fault. Sure you could take my word for it, or you could ask how the people of China felt; The Lede in partnership with Caixin did just that:

If not to buy Apple, what’s the substitute – Samsung? Don’t you know that Samsung’s products are from its OEM factory in Tianjin? Samsung workers’ income and benefits are even worse than those at Foxconn. If not to buy iPad – (do you think) I will buy Android Pad? Have you ever been to the OEM factories for Lenovo and ASUS? Quanta, Compaq … factories of other companies are all worse than those for Apple. Not to buy iPod – (do you think) I will buy Aigo, Meizu? Do you know that Aigo’s Shenzhen factory will not pay their workers until the 19th of the second month? If you were to quit, fine, I’m sorry, your salary will be withdrawn. Foxconn never dares to do such things. First, their profit margin is higher than peers as they manufacture for Apple. Second, at least those foreign devils will regularly audit factories. Domestic brands will never care if workers live or die. I am not speaking for Foxconn. I am just speaking as an insider of this industry, and telling you some disturbing truth.

— Anonymous via The New York Times

Sources: The New York Times, The Lede – NYT Blog

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